Hospital-Acquired Infections in Horses

Infections can be reduced by recognizing the risk and having appropriate cleaning, disinfection, and hygiene protocols.
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When an equine patient needs to be hospitalized we expect the best care possible. Yet, just like human hospitals, there are unique challenges in keeping the patient safe and healthy. One of these issues is hospital-acquired infections. It is estimated that 5% of patients in human hospitals will experience a healthcare-associated infection. We assume that similar rates occur in equine hospital settings.

There are a few key issues to remember. Opportunistic microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) can affect the hospitalized horse. Many of these “bugs” can be carried in by one hospitalized patient without causing illness in that individual, but can be shed into the housing environment, contaminating diagnostic or treatment equipment and other materials. Also, some animals might be incubating an infectious disease and shedding into the environment prior to actually having clinical signs. This emphasizes the need for routine cleaning, disinfection, and good hand hygiene in all areas of equine hospitals.

Secondly, despite our best efforts some hospital-acquired infections occur. Equine hospitals are different than human hospitals. We have hay, dust, and stalls made of wood and concrete. Our equine patient is large (often 1,200 pounds or more) with thick hair coats and produce 50 pounds of manure and urine per day. Infection control is a challenge even in human hospitals where almost every surface is easily cleaned and disinfected.

Hospital-acquired infections are a risk whenever horses are hospitalized. Some equine patients could have a compromised immune system and are more at risk for opportunistic infections. As such, veterinarians need to discuss these potential risks for any hospitalized horses to their clients. Often owners of hospitalized horses receive admission and discharge information about the potential for hospital-associated infections

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